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21Dec/100

You Can Go Home Again? – Oklahoma City – Post-Mortem

I'm not famous, but I'm not un-famous either.  (Nor infamous.)  I'm not popular, but I'm not unpopular.  And, in Oklahoma City, I'm somewhere between favorite son and prodigal.  I knew I was gonna sell a ton of books there.

From my youth, I recalled Full Circle Bookstore as a cozy yet spacious and even somewhat hip independent book store in a well trafficked office building, and, indeed, that is still true for the most part.  It's moved a few dozen feet locations-wise in the last decade, but it remains the state's biggest indie book store.  After the success of the 30 Bars in 30 Days tour, I thought I'd give a few more "traditional" signing events a go, and Full Circle seemed like a great place to start.

Within the first 12 hours of my arrival in Oklahoma City, I'd already canvased the local media from TV to radio to print.  Plus, with many friends still living in town and my dad being a shameless networker, I was certain my events would be packed.  So, color me confused when I arrived at Full Circle to find...nothing.

No signs advertising an "AUTHOR!" was going to be in the building, no workers there to greet me and show me to my seat, no books even.  Nope, just a small table in front of a fire place (what did I say about cozy?) with a small printout sign on it.  My manager and I had to set up the rest of the table ourselves and it's a damn good thing I'm arrogant enough to carry around an autograph pen with me at all times because damn if they had a single Sharpie ready for me.

The purchasing system Full Circle had set up to buy books was even worse.  Me, I'd probably have put a table beside me with a big ol' stack of books for people to buy one second before they met me and asked for a signature, but Full Circle thought it better to keep the book at the register, some thirty feet away from my table through a hedge-maze of bookshelves.  Suffice to say, it wasn't exactly a streamlined, nor un-embarrassing, system for a person to arrive, shake my hand, go "Great to meet you, I'd love for you to sign a book...uh...where do I get one?"  And me have to tell them, "Just walk your ass through those bookshelves til you see an opening.  I'll see you back here in 20 minutes once you've finally made a purchase."

Around 7:30, admittedly around the time I was supposed to leave, yet at a time where a good 50 people were still milling about for my attention, an employee told me I needed to quickly pack up and leave.  Some live elevator music needed to be performed.

Fair enough, I moved my caravan of merrymakers upstairs to a bar in the same building, Belle Isle Brewery, where I eventually sold about FIVE TIMES the amount of books with a much greater ease.

One person showed up looking for me around 8:00:

"I went to Full Circle first, but you weren't there.  It was just some old guy playing elevator music to literally no one."

I don't lodge these complaints because I'm a diva, or because I'm ungrateful, I lodge them because, well, Full Circle got 30% of the book's $15 sale price for this "red carpet treatment."  Meanwhile, Belle Isle Brewery got 0%, I took all the take.

There are plenty of industries that love to bitch about how the current technological revolution has punched them in the face.  Newspapers, magazines, and bookstores are the obvious ones.  And it's easy to feel sorry for them, to not want to aid in their demise...until you realize they're doing more bitching than acting.

Now I'm not John Grisham, or even Tucker Max, but under the right circumstances I do sell a lot of books and I can generate a lot of money.  But what exactly does a Full Circle do to boost my sales and to deserve 30% of my earnings?  (Which is admittedly a lot less than the take BN or Borders would snag.)  Nothing, I would say.  My connections, my media appearances, my own online networking was responsible for just about 100% of the sales.  Thus, I might as well sell books in bars where I get all the take, where I can drink beers and listen to non-elevator music while I sell, at a place where people that come out to meet me would much rather be spending their Friday nights, and where I can even help a bar generate a few thousand dollars of income from food and drink sales during the evening.  Just like I did Friday night.  Shit, maybe bars should be paying me a little taste?

Indie bookstore owners, I seriously ask you:  what can you do for me to justify your take?  I'm willing to show up, if you're willing to tell me what that 30% gets me.  This is a two-way relationship.  In 1980 I might have had no choice, but now, I don't need you unless you're doing your fair share to generate interest as well.  So, tell me, what are you doing?  What are you offering?

Having said all that, I had a truly great time in Oklahoma City.  It's really boomed in the last few years since I've been there.  I dined at several great restaurants (notably the new Ludivine), discovered a few great new bars (notably RePUBlic), and fell in love with the local COOP AleWorks, a truly worldclass beermaker.  Oh, and I sold a lot of books no matter where I was stationed.

"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."

--"You Can't Go Home Again," Thomas Wolfe

16Dec/100

“Were you in the shit?” “Yeah, I was in the shit.”

By Sunday night, just a mere 35 hours or so after the HOW TO FAIL 30 Bars in 30 Days tour had ended, I already felt like Jeremy Renner in the final scene in "The Hurt Locker."  Him, off the battlefield and stuck in a fucking supermarket, bored out of his whits as he tries to figure out which one of one-hundred cereals to select as opposed to which one of one-hundred bomb wires to click.  Me, sitting on the couch watching Sunday night football and drinking a tea, as opposed to sitting in a bar, eating some nachos, drinking a ton of beer, and selling books out the wazoo.

I was recently talking with a good friend of mine.  He's a salesman and on the road a hundred-plus days a year.  When he's on the road, he's working a few hours in the day and devoting his nights to spending his hefty expense account on any individual city's top food, locating rare beers he can't get back in his neck of the woods, and falling asleep in the most luxurious hotels possible.  So I had to wonder, did he enjoy the life?  And his answer was:

"Yes.  Of course.  But no."

I mean, he loved getting to eat foods and drink drinks he would never get to enjoy otherwise--and charge it to the company--he loved checking out new, great cities too; but he missed the simple life of walking his dog, sitting on his couch with his wife, ordering in the same kind of food he's always ordered in, and just watching "Modern Family" til bedtime.

Likewise, I missed my life at home.  I missed my bed, my couch, my friends, the countless hours of TV I watch per day (stacking up on the DVR while on tour), the weekend mornings stealing double and triple features at the movie theater, the "same old same old" restaurants I dig, the beer release events at my favorite local joints, and of course my girl.  But I really fucking loved being on the road too.  Waking up early in some strange place, immediately trekking to a new strange one, making coffee shops into mobile offices for the day, arriving at a bar packed with curious strangers, turning strangers into friends, friends into book buyers, book buyers into admirers.  Gorging on foods covered in cheese, ranch dressing, and buffalo sauce.  Drinking heavily, pint after pint after pint of beer from happy hour to closing (sometimes 1, sometimes 4, depending on the place), and passing out in another strange place, loaded.  At first it was agony, I wanted to cry, my hangovers were unbearable, but by day 5 of the tour I was acclimated and by day 7 or so I fucking loved it.  By day 30 I was so well into the groove that this was "normal," and I could have easily done 30 more days.

Now I've been back home for nearly a week.  I'm enjoying lazing around, working out in the middle of the day, working off the beer fat, going to the movies and watching terrible reality shows.  Waking up every morning in the best place in the world to me.  But I still miss it.  War is hell and hell is selling books in bars for 30 straight days.  Or, is it?  To quote another war movie, actually the best war movie ever, from Willard in "Apocalypse Now":

“When I was there all I wanted was to be out, and once I was out, all I could think about was getting back into the jungle.”

I'm heading back to the jungle today.  Heading to the hometown, Oklahoma City, for a series of events.  For a rare "traditional" event--a bookstore signing at Full Circle Bookstore, Oklahoma's largest independent bookstore.  Of course, afterward I'm getting loaded and selling more books.  My kind of tradition.

I can't wait.

13Dec/104

BAR #30 – Zeppelin Hall – Post-Mortem

Jersey City, NJ

Now that the tour is over, people keep asking me, “Was it worth it?  Was it worth it?”

Uh...

FUCK YEAH.

The "traditional" way a nobody like me would promote a book over the first 30 days of release would be to sit around his apartment, sending some desperate emails, appearing at some off-the-beaten-path BNs and Borders, spamming his friends with tons of Facebook and Twitter posts (OK, maybe I do that too), and just hoping, praying, not selling.

But that shit doesn't cut it any more.

Hell, very few things cut it anymore.  If you want to sell copies.

Consider a book like "The Ask" by Sam Lipsyte.  This was a much ballyhooed major publisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) release that was instantly considered a classic, instantly written up in just about every single English-language print and online resource around, which was promoted heavily, had the best front-table bookstore placement money could buy, and...which sold a mere 7000 copies in it's first several months of release.*

I'm a non-ballyhooed author with a non-ballyhooed book from a non-ballyhooed publisher that is so non-ballyhooed all around, that my book never had a shot to be either critically acclaimed or critically panned because no critics were ever going to read it, if even know about it, right from the get-go.  And, I knew this.  No major bookstores were going to promote me, give me good placement, invite me in to speak, and I knew this too.  But I didn't care.  I wrote a book for my people, and they aren't reading The New York Times Book Review (they read Deadspin) and they aren't going to bookstores on Friday nights (they're out drinking).  So I took the book to the people.

And it worked!

I'm not sure if it's scientific or anecdotal, but it is oft-repeated that if you just sell 1000 copies of a book then that book is in the 99th percentile of all books sold in the county.  A bit of an indictment on American literacy perhaps, but more so proof that most all book released do not sell copies.  Regardless of quality or entertainment value, it's simply hard to know about one book amongst millions released per year.  Especially when most people read about one book per year.  The odds are stacked against you if you're not Stephen King, JK Rowling, Jonathan Franzen, or Stieg Larsson.

Well, after just a month, I have achieved that "genius" 99th percentile.  Not cause I appeared on "Conan," not cause Time Magazine wrote about me, not cause I got major bookings at major bookstores, not because my publisher shelled out some serious loot for print ads, maybe a billboard in Times Square (har har), not cause I sat around hoping one of my blog posts would go viral and gets picked up by College Humor, or retweeted by Tim Ferriss or Tucker Max.  No, if I'd done that, nothing would have happened and I would have merely sold a few dozen books to close friends and family.  Pity fucks.  Pity buys.

But I refused to do that, I had the prescience to know what would happen if I did that.  So I took the book to the people--with my "30 Bars in 30 Days" team (above)--and we sold the books to these (sometimes drunk) people, and these people loved it and continue to love it.  Shit, in many cases it's the first book they've bought and read in a decade!  That would not have happened if I'd gone the traditional route.

And for that reason alone, "Fail" is a success, hopefully destined for even bigger and brighter things.

I'll have more tour thoughts in the coming week, discussions and post-mortems on a few upcoming more traditional events before the holidays too, but until then, here's the final POWER POLLS submitted for your approval.

POWER POLLS (through "30 Bars in 30 Days")

Best Events

1.  Philly Cigar Club special happy hour (Philadelphia)
2.  Amity Hall (Manhattan)
3.  Graney's (Albany)
4.  The Irish Pub (Atlantic City)
5.  Drinker's Tavern (Philadelphia)
6.  McGlynn's Pub (Newark, DE)
7.  Rustico (Alexandria, VA)
8.  Syracuse weekend (Syracuse)
9.  Felie (Manhattan)
10.  Bukowski Tavern (Cambridge, MA)
11.  Brazen Fox (White Plains, NY)
12.  A'dam Good Sports Bar (Atlantic City)
13.  The Brewer's Art (Baltimore)
14.  Paddy Whacks (Philadelphia)
15.  Churchkey (Washington, DC)
16.  Zeppelin Hall (Jersey City, NJ)
17.  O'Sullivan's (Arlington, VA)
18.  Brooklyn Bowl (Brooklyn)
19.  The Note (West Chester, PA)
20.  Track 84 (Providence)
21.  P.O.P.E. (Philadelphia)
22.  Green Rock Tavern (Hoboken, NJ)
23.  Benchwarmers (Ithaca, NY)
24.  P.J. Whelihan's (Cherry Hill, NJ)
25.  Old Bay (New Brunswick, NJ)
26.  Kildare's (Manayunk, PA)
27.  Cambridge Common (Cambridge, MA)
28.  Loockerman Exchange (Dover, DE)
29.  Jillian's (Albany)
30.  Stout (Manhattan)

Top Fails

1.  My assistant locking her keys in the tour car (with countless books inside) right before the Brooklyn Bowl event was about to start.

2.  Having an event at Stout "organized" by Syracuse's Big Apple Orange alumni club (and that's all I'm legally allowed to say about that!).

3.  Spending the night at a Motel 6 in Albany, getting sick for the next few days immediately afterward, my lungs surely full of mold and mildew.

4.  Not drinking coffee all day causing me to turn into a tweaking recent former heroine addict, throwing up in the street, missing a MAJOR event at Churchkey jam-packed with my friends, and falling asleep before 9:00 PM.

5.  Booking events in small towns like Manayunk, Cherry Hill, Dover, and in Ithaca at a bar that is now out of business!

6.  Getting duped into giving a free copy of "How to Fail" to a self-proclaimed "important cultural journalist" who we never actually vetted.  When he didn't showed up for a scheduled one-on-one interview with me and we realized we didn't actually have his contact info (he only had ours), we knew we'd been snookered for a free book.  (UPDATE:  Has any one seen this man???)

7.  Insulting "supremacistic, gun-toting, shrieking, hardcore, hatemongers" on this blog, fearing for my life for a few days before realizing these are actually the NICE kind of "supremacistic, gun-toting, shrieking, hardcore, hatemongers."

8.  My manager Craig leaving his credit card and ID at a bar and not realizing it until we were outside of Atlantic City, forcing us to head back to town at 2 in the morning on a night we desperately needed sleep.

9.  My assistant quite possibly hitting a bald eagle with the tour SUV somewhere outside of Albany.

10.  My assistant accidentally spilling a pint of beer all over the book table (UPDATE:  twice!).

11.  My assistant resuming smoking after having quit just a week before the tour kicked off.

12.  My assistant parking in an illegal spot in Brooklyn and getting a sanitation sticker slapped on her vehicle.

13.  Me drinking Miller High Life forties so hardcore at Drinker's that I was so ridiculously hungover all day I was unable to leave my room to find a sports bar to watch my beloved Syracuse Orange clinch a bowl game against dreadful Rutgers for the first time in ages.  Shameful.

14.  The dean of Newhouse attempting to purchase "How to Fail" via SUpercard, the Syracuse University intra-school debit card, typically used for late-night muchies runs to the dining hall Burger King or Sbarro's.

15.  Me eating bar food for 30 consecutive dinners (plus stadium food, plus late night stops at NJ Turnpike Roy Rogerses, Taco Bell drive-thrus, pizzerias, etc) even though I promised myself I would eat healthily on this tour.

16.  Me turning myself from a taut, athletic figure into a man that looks like he's been hanging out at bars 10 hours a day, drinking 10-plus pints of beer per day, for the last thirty days.  It's time to hit the gym hardcore.

*Hopefully, "The Ask"'s countless appearances on every year-end top ten list will elevate its numbers.

13Dec/100

Bar #28 & #29 – Cambridge Common/Bukowski Tavern – Post-Mortems

After New York and maybe DC, my biggest “fan base” (i.e. amount of local friends) is probably in Boston.  And, with only a mere 24 hours on the “How to Fail” tour dedicated to the city, I expected Thursday to be a boffo day.

Wanting to experiment, and since we only had a day in town, we decided to make Boston Thursday our first and only double-header on tour, booking both a lunchtime and evening event.  Lunchtime was at Cambridge Common, a largish sports bar/restaurant in the round.  Now maybe it was due to it being our only lunchtime stop, or perhaps you could chalk it up to New England puritanicalism, but Cambridge Common was far and away the most conservative ownership we dealt with all tour, sheepish about letting me promote my crude book full of naughty words (I don't exactly blame them).  We weren't allowed to stream the Fail-anetics videos, weren't allowed to display “How to Fail” posters around the bar, weren't really allowed to do anything but sit there looking cute.

Cambridge Common shouldn't have been so worried about offending it's clientele.  As we have quickly learned on tour, even “old” people were once young people and even uncool people want to feel cool and really no one gets offended by the book.  They may not have interest in buying, but they always get how someone younger, or cooler, or hipper, or more profane might.

After a quick respite, we moved the show to Bukowski Tavern a couple miles away.  Named after another legendary writer of naughty words (and drinker of strong drink, though I suspect my palate is better than his was), the bar has a splendid tap list and a unique food menu.  These are the kind of events I love, where the bar gets packed with people, but I know most of them.  I didn't have to wear my used car salesman cap at all at Bukowski Tavern, as I mainly just signed multiple copies of books for family and friends.  It was one of the more pleasant, and drunker, stops on tour.

FAIL OF THE DAY:

My assistant having to leave Cambridge Common to go buy socks.  “Why, did you forgot to wear some?” I asked.  “No, the ones I'm wearing just aren't warm enough.”  I mean, indeed the city and bar were cold as Big Papi since he quit taking steroids, but still...I've heard of smoke breaks, but sock breaks?!

SUCCESS OF THE DAY:

I may have just mentioned how no demographic is out of the range of the book but, nevertheless, when I saw two ooooooold ladies, dining on burgers, ogling my book cover across the room and mouthing the words, “How. To.  Fail?” I was a bit concerned.  When they nodded at me and asked me to bring them some copies for their perusal, I was getting nervous.  Easily in their late 80s, if not 90s, classy and sweet, I was embarrassed as I handed over the books.  I started getting red in the face when one of the women opened the book immediately to the page with a big “FUCK YOU” in the middle of it.  “Don't read this, you're gonna blush, and hate me,” I noted.  “Oh, you can't make her blush,” stated the other woman.  “She's written two books about human sexuality.” Come to find out, I was hawking my wares to noted human sexuality professor Zella Luria, a pioneer in the field (pictured above).  She bought a copy.  “You've made ME blush, Zella,” I signed in her book.  Surely the oldest, and one of the coolest purchasers so far.

DRINK OF THE DAY:

Bukowski's has an awesome rotating tap list, but the hit of the day for me was super fresh Ithaca Flower Power.  This is an IPA that I just consider mediocre out of the bottle, but when you can locate a fresh keg of it—wow!  Piney, resiny, delicious.  I had far too many glasses.

9Dec/100

Bar #27 – Track 84 – Post-Mortem

Track 84, just outside of Providence in Warwick, Rhode Island, near the airport, is a bar I'd love to call my local.  Locating the bar at a dead end next to the Acela tracks, and entering it to a fairly bright smallish single room full of boisterous locals, many of the blue collar variety, it would be easy to assume, "Uh oh, surely another shitty bar with shitty crap on tap."  Uhn uh.  Owner David Longiaru is passionate about his craft beer and serves up surely the best tap and bottle list in all of the state, if not New England.

Unfortunately for me and my book sales, the bar wasn't really bumping on Wednesday night.  But, I still had a blast schmoozing with David, bartender Big Stevie (pictured below), and other weekly tipplers, playing darts and electronic shuffleboard, and enjoying some special selections from David's massive cellar.  He truly treated me like family, plucking some choice beauties from his collection.  A barman of all trades, he even snuck away to the kitchen to whip up some of his signature Reubens, which were seriously close to the best I've ever had (David has a special seasoning and moistening method for the corned beef).

Track 84 is truly an awesome spot, and I hope to one day revisit it, next time on a more packed night.

FAIL OF THE DAY:

Perhaps focusing more on enjoying great beer than on actually selling books, though the crowd was truly thin, and most guests did indeed still purchase "How to Fail."

SUCCESS OF THE DAY:

Discovering such a great beer bar gem!

DRINK OF THE DAY:

Berkshire Brewing Company's Gude Greg's Wee Heavy Private Reserve.  A special beer released a couple of months ago in honor of the late beer pioneer Greg Noonan, this is the first bourbon-barreled wee heavy I can ever recall having.  But why aren't there more?!  This was a deliciously smooth blend of rich vanilla oaked bourbon and complex malty scotch ale, a truly wonderful combination other brewers should attempt.  David was also kind enough to offer me some vintage Rodenbach Grand Cru and a 2006 bottle of espresso imperial stout Pozharnik from the now defunct Pennichuck Brewing Company.

9Dec/100

Bar #26 – Feile – Post-Mortem

As you can imagine, since the release of this book and on this book tour, I've come into close contact with people of all professions:  publishers, journalists, advertisers, PR people, radio, television, film folks, and money men and women.  But without question, across the board, the BY FAR most courteous, giving, and truly professional professionals I've dealt with have been bar owners.  And, Mark Collins, a partner in Feile, is the cream of the crop.

I first met Mark early in 2010 when he noticed I was frequently using his other bar Amity Hall as my personal office space.  (When you're a deadbeat artist who can't afford “real” office space you will often use coffee shops, cafes, and bars as office space for meetings and the like.)  He joked that I owed him some rent money before inquiring into my work.  Truly excited when he heard I was an author about to be published, I sent him an early copy of “How to Fail” which he devoured over a weekend, which he truly loved, and which he truly “got.”  He recommended holding my book tour release party at Amity Hall and gave countless helpful suggestions, both artistically and strategically, for making the book and tour into a success. When Mark's new bar Feile on West 33rd opened a month or two ago and he left his day-to-day duties at Amity Hall to do the same at his new spot, I knew we'd have to have a 30 Bars in 30 Days stop there, which we coincidentally coincided with Tuesday's Jimmy V Classic matchup between the #8 ranked Michigan St. Spartans and my beloved #7 ranked Syracuse Orange, just a few hundred yards away at Madison Square Garden.

Whereas on a daily basis I find myself dealing with people with “can't do” attitudes, people that hem and haw over every little bump in the road, every little problem they have to deal with, Mark is truly an inspiration in how he runs a business.  In just an evening of watching him work I've taken away so much that I hope to translate into my own life and career.  Mark may be the “man in charge” but he never acts that way and he would never rudely order an “underling” to do something he won't.  He may wear dress clothes to work every day, but that doesn't mean he's afraid to bust his ass, hustling around the bar non-stop setting up tables, cleaning up, hooking up kegs, pouring drinks.  No job is too menial for him, he does whatever is necessary to keep Feile running quickly, efficiently, and enjoyably to his customers.  It's no wonder the bar is constantly packed, not a single person in the place having a bad time, not a single person left standing and looking around, going, “Could I get some service?!”

I've never dealt with someone in any industry so willing to make things work.  We wanted our Fail-anetics videos streaming on some TVs.  Not a problem.  Whereas other bar owners have sometimes hem and hawed, belly-aching about how “hard” it might be to facilitate such a thing, Mark just asked for the disc and ran away to set it up instantly.  When Mark found out we had a keg of beer donated to us, even though he didn't have room on a tap line, didn't even have an actual matching tap handle, he figured out how to make it work.  When I casually mentioned to Mark that at the Amity Hall event we'd had a special How to Fail Cocktail, he took charge and initiative.  “Great, give me the recipe and I'll have the bartenders mixing some up all night.”  A few minutes later I had a fresh one, mixed up by the man himself.  That's the thing about Mark, he never thinks, “I can't do that,” he always thinks, “How can I do that?”  His positivity is infectious!

Now I see I've already written about 700 words on the man and, at best you're all gonna think this is one of those sleazy “sponsored” posts that Mark and Feile obviously paid for.  And, at worst, you (and Mark) are gonna think I've just written a creepy online love letter to him.  But, I simply wanted to bring the passion to this post that Mark exhibits on a daily basis in his job.  I know many people look a little down on "bar people,” thinking them lazy folks that would rather be slinging drinks to the drunken masses than putting on a suit and tie and doing a “normal” job.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Bar owners are some of the smartest, wisest, most educated, literate, and well-read people I've met in the last month, and Mark is the best of the bunch.  If only everyone I worked for and with behaved more like him, we'd all get a lot more done in this world.

Mark has long been a friend of the book, but by now I'm proud to simply call him a friend and someone I will continue to admire. And, it's not a surprise that such hospitality on Mark's part led to an amazing “How to Fail” event, one of the best on tour so far.

FAIL OF THE DAY:

We offered what we thought was a pretty cool deal:  every "How to Fail" purchase gave one a chance to win a pair of tickets to the sold-out Jimmy V event.  Unfortunately, despite tons of purchases, not a single person plucked the two lucky books from the pile that actually had the tickets in them.  And, by game time, with the bar now deserted as everyone had already entered The Garden, we had no choice but to unload the ducats to scalpers, none of whom seemed much into satirical literature.

SUCCESS OF THE DAY:

Any day that the heretofore-seemingly shaky Syracuse Orange can solidify its placement on this year's national scene with a thumping of the Izzo-led Spartans is a day of great success.

DRINK OF THE DAY:

Amazingly, I'd never before had the BPA (Belgian Pale Ale) from Cooperstown, NY's amazing Ommegang.  Fresh on tap, it delivered the goods and I was pumped to finally try it.

8Dec/100

Bar #25 – The Brewer’s Art – Post-Mortem

I've been to twenty-some-odd bars in the last month on tour, and of course thousands in my life, and The Brewer's Art in Baltimore might be the most gorgeous spot of them all.  A 100-something-year-old former rich person residence in downtown Baltimore, the interior is a beautiful array of classic fixtures, a sturdy bar, comfortable couches, a seductive underground wine cellar, and even a dining room chandelier.  And, with not a television in the joint, this is the kind of cozy spot perfect for intimate one-on-one chatting...and bookselling.

The Brewer's Art had long been on my top-beer-destinations-to-one-day visit list, but I always figured, "Hey, when will I ever be in Baltimore?"  So call it perfect kismet when my publisher booked a tour date in Baltimore and coincidentally selected The Brewer's Art as the location.  What a dream come true.  Even if we hadn't sold a single book Monday night, it still would have been an amazing night to remember in an amazing spot, but luckily, the kinds of folks that frequent The Brewer's Art are the same kind of well-educated, urbane urbanites that love "How to Fail."

Owner Volker Stewart (pictured above) runs a top notch brewpub--he even gave me a brewhouse tour!--that Baltimore is lucky to have.  I hope it continues to remain an institution on the Baltimore, if not American, beer scene.

FAIL OF THE DAY:

The "How to Fail" caravan pulled into Baltimore to find the city on fire!  Only later would we find out the strip club district, "The Block," was the culprit.  I'm not exactly sure what caused it--Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over some flaming silicone?!--nor exactly how this was the fail of the day, but it did make us a little late for the event I suppose.

SUCCESS OF THE DAY:

As a man who frequently flies solo at bars, reading and writing by himself, I can tell you that Brewer's Art is a reading/writing alone bar par excellence, and indeed I counted at least a half dozen people over the evening doing likewise.  But one particular gentlemen stood out.  Older, but very classy and distinguished, he sat reading a thick tome on Joseph Stalin.  Heady stuff and surely not a potential "How to Fail" customer, right?  So color me pleasantly shocked when he came over to the table to purchase a copy.  He stunned me even more when he pointed in the very chair I sat in and noted, "This exact corner is where I finished writing my last book."  Wow!  We chatted a little and the incredibly humble man noted that he was a frequent New Yorker contributor and also a journalism professor at USC.  He took "How to Fail" back to his table and when he exited an hour later, he shocked us yet again but giving me perhaps the best compliment all tour, revealing that he had put his Stalin book away to read "How to Fail," which he greatly enjoyed, and which had given him a much needed laugh.  Only the next day after a little stalkerish Googling, did I realize that all these great compliments had come courtesy of Tim Page...a Pulitzer Prize winner!  Wow!

DRINK OF THE DAY:

When I visit a new brewery or brewpub I always order a flight of every single beer in the house just to quickly test the goods.  At most all spots around the country there's a few stinkers in any flight, usually a lower ABV pilsner or wheat beer, you know, something to sate the masses.  Well, as I fawningly told Volker, the flight at The Brewer's Art did not have a stinker in the bunch, and I enjoyed them all heartily, no surprise when even the "lower ABV" flagship beer is an abbey dubbel, Resurrection.  Having said that, my favorite beer in the joint was the dangerously drinkable 10% Cerebus Tripel, sweet and yeasty, and as good as any "real" Belgian.  The food is amazing at Brewer's Art too, with some of the best garlic frites I've ever had.

7Dec/100

Bar #24 – Rustico – Post-Mortem (and POWER POLLS)

Alexandria, VA

I'm a champ, and after Saturday's vomiting failure--not a failure to vomit, no, I had no problem vomiting--I was ready to redeem myself.  I woke up early Sunday after thirteen solid hours of sleep, a slightly sore stomach, but feeling better.  I made sure to immediately score some coffee...beers.  Yes, I'm a dumb dumb man, and after a disastrous Saturday, I couldn't handle DW's peer pressure when he asked if I was interested in a little brunching with some Cuvee Delphine and Black Albert Batch 0.  Both delicious, but my stomach was having trouble holding on.  But, eventually, I had a legit cup of coffee and then I was back to normal.

Rustico too rolled out the red carpet for me, no surprise since the restaurant group that runs Churchkey also runs them--originally ran them in fact--and Greg Engert made sure to salute me and my book with a super rarity from the cellar.  He selected Avery's Rumpkin, a pumpkin ale aged for six months in Gosling rum barrels and checking in at a naughty 13.5% ABV.  When you're a beer geek you mentally have a list of beers you want to try, and a list of beers you're certain you will never try due to their extreme rarity, and I'd filed Rumpkin onto the latter list a long, long time ago.  But, Greg is a wizard at landing the rarities, and the sixtel kegs of Rumpkin he pulled out for my event may have been the only Rumpkin kegs ever to leave the Avery premises in Colorado.

The beer was a massive massive hit in my book--dangerously drinkable--and certainly sharpened my mind for a little bookselling.  I expected the entire DC-area weekend to be a huge hit, with Churchkey the pinnacle, but whether due to vomiting circumstances or just pure happenstance, Rustico was where it all came together in a symphony of fun and bookselling, this easily the best event of the weekend and our best Sunday on tour so far.

Thanks to Greg, Jon, Mark and the Neighborhood Restaurant Group.

POWER POLLS (through week four)

Best Events

1.  Philly Cigar Club special happy hour (Philadelphia)
2.  Amity Hall (Manhattan)
3.  Graney's (Albany)
4.  The Irish Pub (Atlantic City)
5.  Drinker's Tavern (Philadelphia)
6.  Rustico (Alexandria, VA)
7.  McGlynn's Pub (Newark, DE)
8.  Syracuse weekend (Syracuse)
9.  A'dam Good Sports Bar (Atlantic City)
10.  Brazen Fox (White Plains, NY)
11.  Paddy Whacks (Philadelphia)
12.  Churchkey (Washington, DC)
13.  O'Sullivan's (Arlington, VA)
14.  Brooklyn Bowl (Brooklyn)
15.  The Note (West Chester, PA)
16.  P.O.P.E. (Philadelphia)
17.  Green Rock Tavern (Hoboken, NJ)
18.  Benchwarmers (Ithaca, NY)
19.  P.J. Whelihan's (Cherry Hill, NJ)
20.  Old Bay (New Brunswick, NJ)
21.  Kildare's (Manayunk, PA)
22.  Loockerman Exchange (Dover, DE)
23.  Jillian's (Albany)
24.  Stout (Manhattan)

Top Fails

1.  My assistant locking her keys in the tour car (with countless books inside) right before an event was about to start.

2.  Having an event at Stout "organized" by Syracuse's Big Apple Orange alumni club (and that's all I'm legally allowed to say about that!).

3.  Spending the night at a Motel 6 in Albany.

4.  Not drinking coffee all day causing me to turn into a tweaking recent former heroine addict, throwing up in the street, missing a MAJOR event, and falling asleep before 9:00 PM.

5.  Booking events in small towns like Manayunk, Cherry Hill, and Dover.

6.  Getting duped into giving a free copy of "How to Fail" to a self-proclaimed "important cultural journalist" who we never actually vetted.  When he didn't showed up for a scheduled one-on-one interview with me and we realized we didn't actually have his contact info (he only had ours), we knew we'd been snookered for a free book.

7.  Insulting "supremacistic, gun-toting, shrieking, hardcore, hatemongers" on this blog, fearing for my life for a few days before realizing these are actually the NICE kind of "supremacistic, gun-toting, shrieking, hardcore, hatemongers."

8.  My manager Craig leaving his credit card and ID at a bar and not realizing it until we were outside of Atlantic City, forcing us to head back to town at 2 in the morning on a night we desperately needed sleep.

9.  My assistant quite possibly hitting a bald eagle with the tour SUV somewhere outside of Albany.

10.  My assistant accidentally spilling a pint of beer all over the book table (UPDATE:  twice!).

11.  My assistant resuming smoking after having quit just a week before the tour kicked off.

12.  My assistant parking in an illegal spot in Brooklyn and getting a sanitation sticker slapped on her vehicle.

13.  Me drinking Miller High Life forties so hardcore at Drinker's that I was so ridiculously hungover all day I was unable to leave my room to find a sports bar to watch my beloved Syracuse Orange clinch a bowl game against dreadful Rutgers for the first time in ages.  Shameful.

14.  The dean of Newhouse attempting to purchase "How to Fail" via SUpercard, the Syracuse University intra-school debit card, typically used for late-night muchies runs to the dining hall Burger King or Sbarro's.

15.  Me eating bar food for 24 consecutive dinners (plus stadium food, plus late night stops to NJ Turnpike Roy Rogerses, Taco Bell drive-thrus, pizzerias, etc) even though I promised myself I would eat healthily on this tour.

7Dec/100

Bar #23 – Churchkey – Post-Mortem

Churchkey is one of my favorite beer bars, easily the best beer bar on the 30 Bars in 30 Days tour, the best beer bar in Washington, DC, and perhaps the best beer bar in all of America.  So you can imagine I was beyond stoked for Saturday's event there and beer director Greg Engert rolled out the red carpet for me.  Unfortunately, this was not what I was thinking as I leaned haunched over between two cars throwing up violently onto 14th Street around 7 PM.

And it wasn't even due to drinking!  I swear!  Yeah, right, like you're gonna believe me.  Like you're gonna believe the guy that has been drinking hard every day for a month straight.  Like you're going to believe the guy who ended late Friday night with a Belgian quadruples tasting, who started Saturday morning with an exotic barleywines tasting and with his first ever bottle of De Dolle Stille Nacht (1999 vintage, AMAZING), who headed over to Churchkey at noon and abused an amazing menu with such delights as Stillwater's A Saison Darkly, Avery's Rumpkin, and Victory Storm King on cask.  But, I swear, you have to believe me!  And isn't the fact that I've done the same things mentioned above for the past month WITHOUT yakking even once, even more proof that this yakking was not drinking influenced or induced?

Speaking of repetition, I'd like to take a short break from this vomitus talk to discuss some repetitiveness I continue to see on tour.  First up, let's count down the top three things said to me when a bar patron notices "How to Fail":

"How long did it take you to write this?"

Such an odd question.  Such an odd question to be THE question everyone wants to know.  Not what the book is about.  Not even how much it costs.  Nope, just how long it took to write.  At first I was like, "Who gives a shit?  One month or one decade, the quality is the same."  And, I was confused as to whether people wanted to know that it took a short or long time to pen, like it would only be worth their $15 if they were getting several years of a man's blood, sweat, and adjectives on paper.  But, I finally realized that the reason this is the top FAQ of me goes back to the belief that everyone in the world wants to write A book.  Of course, very few people do ever write A book (despite the fact that millions of books are released per year).  So these people don't give a shit how long it took to write "How to Fail," they give a shit how long it took to write 400 pages of anything, because they too would like to think that they will one day write 400 pages of something.  So they want a short answer.  They want to hear, "Oh, it was easy, took just a few months."  They don't want to hear the real answer, "I'd been planning it since 2004, it took me about 3 years to write, and another full year to edit."  They don't want to hear that and they don't have any interest in putting that effort in.  So, at the least, even if I'm not selling books some nights, I'm sure preventing a lot of people from ever attempting their own crummy books.  And, for that, perhaps I deserve a medal.

"Congratulations!"

Always said by someone with no interest in buying a book.  I didn't just get Bar Mitzvahed.  You don't need to congratulate me.  Congratulations won't keep me stocked in rare beer and cheap black t-shirts.  Just buy the book or don't.  I'm well past the point that a congratulations matters and you need to get better at blowing people off that are selling books in bars.  What, you've never encountered someone selling a book in a bar before?!

"I already know how to fail!"

Always said jokingly, as if the most clever joke in the world and one I've never heard before.  Nope, I hear it every day, countless times a day, from men, women, young, old, well-dressed, poorly-dressed, journalists, customers, it doesn't matter.

I know you know how to fail, we all know how to fail.  That's why I wrote "How to Fail," because failure is universal, whether you're George Clooney, Barack Obama, Jay-Z, Shaq, or that bum on the street corner.  So just cause you KNOW how to fail, doesn't mean you won't enjoy my book, or get something out of my book, no matter who you are.

No matter who you are.  Which is why I'd now like to touch on the three most frequent professions--purely anecdotally based--that keep buying "How to Fail."

Service industry professionals

Sure, you say, you are spending countless hours a day in bars and restaurants, of course I'm gonna be spending plenty of time schmoozing up and hobnobbing hostesses, maitre d's, waiters (excuse me, "servers"), cooks, barbacks, and the like.  But, they all do really love the book, really relating to the book's protagonist's struggles in "making it," perhaps because many service industry folks are also very much chasing unique dreams that all the detractors in their lives are pooh-poohing.

Military men/women

Educated, spend lots of time traveling and alone, frequently without access to more technological forms of entertainment (phones, computers, TVs, etc) and often need a good laugh.  Yeah, right in any author's wheelhouse, but especially mine.  And, they are all loving "How to Fail," and, as far as I know, the book is currently in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to name a few spots.

Teachers

The younger grades the better.  This is another profession that is overworked and in desperate need of a laugh, especially an "adult" one.  After spending all week with children, these fine folks seem to enjoy reading a bawdy novel full of drinking, sex, and the like.  Then again, I greatly enjoy hearing their school tales of catching students talking about/engaged in drinking, sex, and the like.

On top of that, there's an (anecdotal again) gender breakdown of about 70/30 female/male in buying.  Odd.  Lots of male homosexual purchases as well, though that could just be due to their proclivities for working in the service industry.

But back to me, haunched over and vomiting on Saturday night, forced to leave an awesome and packed Churchkey event right as it was heating up, right as books were flying off the table, forced to taxi back to DW's house to pass out for the night on an air mattress...at 8:30 PM.

On Sunday I would feel fine, I would look back at my Saturday and analyze what exactly had made me sick.  Sure, I drank a lot, but I always drink a lot.  Sure, I ate a lot of bar food--a grilled cheese, a heaping plate of tater tots, a flatbread pizza--but I eat greasy bar food every day.  Sure, I'm overworked and underslept, but big deal.  No, I think it all came down to the fact that on Saturday morning I was unable to get a cup of coffee before starting the day and event.  I start every day with coffee and drink it nearly non-stop throughout the entirety of the day until bedtime.  And, I didn't do that on Saturday at all.  So the intense headaches, the shakiness, the queasiness, the eventual throwing up, was all due to a lack of coffee.  How embarrassing.  I'm like one of those characters in "Trainspotting" once they start weening themselves off heroin.

I won't skip a Dunkin Donut morning stop ever again.

FAIL OF THE DAY:

Lack of coffee leads to surfeit of throw up.

SUCCESS OF THE DAY:

As I yakked on the street, a kindly bum rolled his wheelchair over to me and starting giving me health advice.  *YAK* "You know man, you can drink just not so..." *YAK* "...much.  And when you do drink..." *YAK* "...be sure to drink lots of salt water with it..." *YAK* "...yeah, that always helped me keep it down."

Life is clearly immitating art considering Chapter 2 in "How to Fail" is titled "How to Fail to Not Be Mistaken For a Bum."

DRINK OF THE DAY:

De Dolle Stille Nacht 1999 vintage.  Whoa, baby!

4Dec/100

Bar #22 – O’Sullivan’s – Post-Mortem

Arlington, VA

A much needed, yet unscheduled, off day on Thursday gave me time to catch up on some quality drinking.  Yeah, sure, I've been drinking every single day for the last month or so, but on tour it's mostly been crappy macro lagers and the like.  Thursday was a chance to revisit my craft beer roots with some high-quality shit.  I spent the day with my friend DW and we raided his beer cellar, freshly stocked with some new rarities after just returning from a honeymoon in Belgium.

Friday began the first of four days in the DC-Baltimore area, a stop I considered nothing more than "batting practice" before three big boy events Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.  I stopped in at O'Sullivan's, a cozy Irish pub in the hopping Clarendon section of Arlington.  The beer was expected, the food surprisingly decent, and the frat band-fueled crowd was an absolute pleasure.  We sold a lot of books and met a ton of cool people and were finished in time to head back to DW's for an epic Belgian quadruple tasting.

O'Sullivan's was hopefully a harbinger to the next three days in the area which should be absolutely epic.

FAIL OF THE DAY:

Unable to find a pillow to sleep on at DW's house, he yoinked his dog's pillow, removed the pillow case, and gave it to me.  I sniffed it, and decided I was too drunk to really care.

SUCCESS OF THE DAY:

Dinner at Ray's:  The Steaks.  Completely lacking in decor and ambiance--it gets a fucking "11" for that on Zagat's; even McDonald's can muster like a 12--the meat is second to none and absurdly cheap.

DRINK OF THE DAY:

Too many to name, from a group of sours--Lost Abbey's Duck Duck Gooze, Cantillon Fou Foune, Cantilon Cuvee des Champions--to some De Dolle Belgian strong dark ales, to the aforementioned late night quad tasting, the winner of the day was still easily the quote-unquote "best beer in the world":  Westvleteren 12.  Amazing every single time I try it.